In education we continue to approach the same problems with the same sorts of solutions, despite the fact that they’re not working. Instead, we need a fundamental shift in how we educate our children. Our public school system was designed to meet the needs of a long-ago era—the Industrial Age. Old ways are not working because now, we are in the Information Age.

We need to change from teacher-centered education to something more learner-centered. In the Industrial Age paradigm, a teacher is a judge and a rules-enforcer. In the Information Age, they should be guides and learning coaches who help students overcome obstacles.

A lot of my day as a homeschooling parent is observing – jumping in at the right time and then stepping back. It’s a difficult job because often I feel like I should be doing something more than just sort of  standing there.

So I was really happy to find that education professor Charles Reigeluth tackles this topic in his new book Reinventing Schools. He puts forth a new paradigm for education where teachers take on a new set of traits, not seen in our schools today:

•  Mentor … the same 20 to 30 students for several years, addressing all aspects of student development. Students and teachers would develop the deeper relationships that foster real caring on both sides. Mentors would help students prepare a personal learning plan for each project period, six to 12 weeks, including helping each student and his parents choose appropriate instructional goals, subject to standards set by the community, state and nation. Mentors would also help identify and support the best means for each student to achieve those goals.

•  Designer … of student work options, mostly projects or tasks, to engage students in the learning process. Open educational resources developed by teachers throughout the country and available to all educators for free via the Internet can alleviate much of the burden of the designer role.

•  Facilitator … of the learning process, which entails monitoring student progress, enhancing student motivation and coaching student performance.

•  Learner … the teacher is always learning with the students, about students, from and for the students. The teacher does not have all the answers, but the teacher helps students find answers. And the teacher is always learning more about how best to meet students’ needs. The new paradigm provides sufficient support for teacher learning.

•  Owner and manager … of the school. Like lawyers and accountants in a small firm, teachers would be partners who own their public school and make decisions about its operations, including budgeting and staffing. This model is already a success at the Minnesota New Country School and other EdVisions schools. This role elevates teachers to that of true professionals, rather than workers controlled by an all-powerful bureaucracy.

Reigeluth calls these new educators guides, to better reflect their new roles.

The new roles serve students in the age in which we live. But the new roles are a stretch for teachers given the student teacher ratio of 30:1. So the good news here is that these new roles are perfect for parents. 

Parents often feel like the Information Age makes things more and more compacted and out of reach of the non-expert teacher. But it turns out that the deeper we plunge into the Age of Information, the less dependent we are on trained teachers to educate children. We have passed the point of turning back: spoon-feeding kids knowledge isn’t enough anymore.

17 replies
  1. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    This post reminded me of a book I read years ago, about a woman who visited a 1st grade class and then pledged to send everyone of them to college. She did it and it is a terrific story. What she did might be similar to what this ‘guide’ would be in school. What got the kids through college was not the money she pledged so much as a person keeping tabs on them for all those years between 1st grade and high school graduation.

    And these ideas for a ‘guide’ and a la carte schooling are wonderful, implementation would be chaotic at first. Probably extremely chaotic. They would have to start with 1st graders, starting with kids in other grades would be difficult. The kids are already trained to push against the system and to hate learning. So of course if these ideas were started, the kids would just slack off, and the result would be parents would be screaming it all was a failure. When the kids started to realizer the ‘judge and rules-enforcer’ was gone, eventually they would reprogram themselves, but many of the older ones would be lost forever.

  2. Bria
    Bria says:

    Cracker of an article, as per usual. One thing I get asked all the time where I live (Ireland…where homeschooling is definately NOT the norm), is “Have you got a teaching qualification?”. I really really HATE it when people ask me that because it make education seem unattainable unless you can get your information from someone who went to collage to get a piece of paper that claims they are a teacher.

    • susan
      susan says:

      What’s funny, Bria, is that I’m in the exact opposite, yet completely similar position as you are when people ask “are you a teacher?” because no, I’m not. But the fact is, I have a masters degree in instructional design, development and evaluation (and funny enough, from the program that Charlie Reigeluth chaired at Syracuse, so seeing his name here gave me a chuckle). But I really really HATE saying I have a masters in education, because then people say “Oh, OK then, you’re qualified to homeschool” and I believe it does a great disservice to all the other homeschoolers out there. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t!

      • Bria
        Bria says:

        Wow, I hadn’t even considered that. I suppose what it comes down to us a general level of disconcertment among the ones who ask these questions. People don’t know how to react around those who choose to go against the societal grain. Let’s face it…the idea of Homeschooling tends to prick the conscience of people who like the freedom that sending their kids to public school gives them. In my case, I sometimes feel the “Are you a qualified teacher?” question is not even directed at me. Its them subconsciously giving themselves an out to never homeschool.

  3. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    The reformers have great ideas but very little support to implement their suggestions.

    This whole guide thing sounds like what I call myself!


  4. Gemma
    Gemma says:

    Hello Penelope,

    For early years education Charles Reigluth’s ‘guides’ sound very close to Maria Montessori’s ‘directors.’

    Montessori ran her children’s house with:
    -the directress staying with children for three years in a mixed age classroom.
    -materials designed to meet the children’s learning needs, which all directors can use.
    -directors as observers who watch what the child is interested in and capable of and offer appropriate challenges.
    -the comparison breaks down a little with teachers learning but I’m talking about early years so maybe like you didn’t want to learn states and their capitals so directors don’t need to always be learning everything the 0-6 year old children are. But directresses are always learning about each individual child to properly facilitate their learning.
    -schools which are mostly private and owned by a directress.

    It strikes me that you started out wholly against curriculum but that over time you accepted that games designed to help children learn something can be good if genuinely engaging, and Suzuki is good, and if the child engages with any curriculum out of personal desire then that’s okay.

    And that’s where I think your opinions most match up with Montessori. Because yes, it is a curriculum which seeks to create well rounded six year olds but the children get to choose what interests them to work on day to day. They also get to work on those things uninterrupted for long periods building focus and grit to conquer challenges. And since it’s mostly developing practical skills I do think you’d find Montessori schools a vast improvement on current preschools and the continuance of the factory education model.

    Do you know much about Montessori?

  5. Commenter
    Commenter says:


    Such a curriculum (if you can call it that) simply cannot be delivered through our current public school system. Teachers may study such a thing at college, and sympathize with it, but this theory would hit a brick wall at practice, given the constraints, limitations, and traditions of our schools. It would end up an abject failure, like constructivist math has been.

  6. sarah
    sarah says:

    Ideally that is the perfect education model. You might want to google infinity and stargate schools. They are public funded, but for each subject, students break into groups according to their level of learning. When they complete one level they go to the next. This mixes kids of different ages together all the time. This is also similar to montessori.

    I think, like everyone, kids need some guidence but not spoon feeding. My son hates science. I said he must know the basics. I gave him a science book and told him to decide how he is going to learn the info, but that he needs to learn the subjects in the book. This works for a homeschooler who has been taught to be independent, but what about the child who had independence taken from him through being in day care from day one? Maybe those kids do have the ability to be independent but it would take a lot more work. I have seen families pull kids from school and the kids flounder around for 6 months while they adjust to freedom.

    The other problem is the new way of schooling goes against society. Even though our country endorses individuality, it primarily encourages fitting into your social structure and doing as told. So, really in order to. reform the schools you need to convince adults to change our social structure.

    The interesting thought is when America was being populated, kids were free. Schools, societies, did not exsist and from that generation the industrial revolution was born. That same generation’s kids also began reestablishing the social classes.

    I dont think the average american could handle not having social classes and loosing that idendity. So many people cannot grasp how I dont test because, “how do I know how smart my kids are? How do I know who is the best?” Or, People look at me wondering how I could keep my kids from school, because “they have no friends, or only a couple.” They cant grasp an identity where having friends is not important.

    Maybe as this largest group of homeschoolers grow up, they will be able to change societies identity, and change the school model.

      • sarah
        sarah says:

        Nothing wrong -just pointing out how hard it is to transition from one to another. The kids are lost trying to figure out how to think independently again. I think its horrible that real life and school life are that different. :)

  7. wallis
    wallis says:

    I have been enjoying your blog. I have come here plenty of times to get some information in homeschooling. I just started with my 1st grader. I also have a 3 year old and a 6 month old. Honestly I love it. It has been such a blessing. I believe it is the calling in my life. I know everyone starts for a different reason and it is so good that we have the opportunity to do so.
    You are very right about the information age being an opportunity for children to become self learners. Not just our children but ourselves. I have learned so much. I am on going to start my own business online and I never would have imagined it. I thought it was unatainable. but now I see that it is all t my fingertips and it is possible. I love education. I can go to school forever but I do not like being told I can only do this and that because those are the only options available to me because of location, economic status, background, etc…And I see this being available to my children and even more. I want them to understand that they can see it and do it. Not to dismiss their creativity.
    Also you have to remember how much money is the school getting per child? Will it change they way the money is being given to tenured teachers, contractors for textbooks, the list goes on.
    But we as a society can make a change, people need to make a stink, for me and my family home school is our best option.

    I really like this idea of schooling for children.

  8. HomeschoolDad
    HomeschoolDad says:

    They can tinker with the schools all they want but it will be to no avail. For decades the smartest women became teachers – which gave the schools an unnatural and unsustainable talent subsidy. The brightest, hardest-working women now are professionals or in the corporate world. (The genius-level women homeschool!). So the fact is that schools never really worked on their own and never will in the future.

  9. Jay Cross
    Jay Cross says:

    I love the ideas Charles sets forth, but I ask one crucial question in response: what is the system’s incentive to implement any of it?

    There are some fantastic books out there written from what I call the “King of School” perspective. Meaning they are amazingly thought-out and full of ideas that WOULD work if you were the King of School with the power to try them out…but you aren’t.

    The problem is the actual system is run by career-minded bureaucrats, perverse incentives and a structure concerned solely with self-preservation. Realizing this, it’s hard for me to make the mental leap between admittedly awesome ideas and the depressingly small chance they will ever see the light of day.

    I suppose the authors of such books would say the conversation has to start somewhere and they are contributing to that conversation by putting their thoughts out there. Fair enough. Maybe I’m being too cynical, but I say there’s no chance in hell a public school implements any of this and the best chance for widespread adoption would be private schools running with these great ideas themselves. Perhaps news of their success would eventually compel the public system to act.

    • Jay Cross
      Jay Cross says:

      Edit: As I read more about Charles and his ideas, it appears he is doing basically what I said: building/supporting smaller schools from the ground up with this approach.

      Awesome. I love it!

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